Prediction and control are impossible in a Complex Adaptive System Adaptive System and the best we can do is anticipate and influence. We can never know how our actions will combine with other system dynamics to either create huge impacts or to completely miss the mark and cause no impact at all.
Sometimes the system just seems poised to respond in exponential ways to whatever conditions are present at the initiation of an event. This is the source of “butterfly effects.” Given the right initial conditions, a small move in the beginning can trigger a huge response—like when a small amount of information can trigger a landslide shift in feelings across a system. Other times, initial conditions can damp any attempt to bring about huge changes.
This model reveals the essence of how public relations and marketing professionals do their work. The best of them know that the success and wide popularity of their products has less to do with the product itself and more to do with the conditions (Container, Differences, Exchanges) in the environment that shape the patterns of engagement and spending at any given point. Given that two versions or models of any product are generally essentially the same, the successful marketer will know that it is the demographic data (Container and Difference questions), the timeliness and quality of the service or product (Difference and Exchange questions), and the attractiveness and “hook” of the message (Exchange and Difference questions), that will make the difference between a product becoming a trend and its becoming a bust. YouTube videos that go viral do so because of the Butterfly Effects. Their popularity is generally less dependent on quality of the video than on the audience; their needs, interests, and cultural contexts; and the ways in which the messages are carried.
In these times of global social, economic, and political upheaval, individuals and groups who are in power, and those who want power, are seeing the “butterfly” impacts of their decisions and actions. In the spring of 2011, one young woman who said she would not be left homeless because she lost her job in an economic recession turned it into nation-wide peaceful rebellion called “Occupy” or “We are the 99%” that resulted in public national debate about political and social equity and discrimination. Rebellion and revolution in one country ignites local voices in another country.
Wise practitioners and professionals take advantage of this phenomena intentionally in their work whether it’s building a brand or creating political or social upheaval. Knowing that they can’t predict or control their exact impact, they use Adaptive Action to 1) see, understand, and influence patterns of decision making and interaction that frame the engagement of their products and ideas in the greater community, and 2) make continuous adjustments over time as they see and gauge the impact of each cycle of action.